Humble ingredients with world class appeal: what Chef Wandile Mabaso fed BRICS leaders

Chef Wandile Mabaso served up sumptuous dishes at the 15th BRICS Summit. Picture: Supplied

Chef Wandile Mabaso served up sumptuous dishes at the 15th BRICS Summit. Picture: Supplied

Published Aug 29, 2023


While world leaders from the BRICS nations gathered to discuss the future, a Soweto-born South African with a dream of becoming a world class chef, achieved his long-term goal.

Chef Wandile Mabaso, owner and head chef at Les Creatifs in Sandton, served some of the most powerful men in the world, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Across the world, societal cultures manifest themselves, mostly through one art form, food.

Having studied in the classical French style of cooking in New York, and understanding what it means to be African, Wandile Mabaso fused head and heart to serve some of South Africa’s greatest natural features in a gastronomical marvel.

On Tuesday, during the BRICS welcome dinner, Chef Mabaso told IOL it was all about a journey into indigenous South Africa.

“A main course of ‘wilderness of Limpopo’ was ingredient-driven by using potatoes, since Limpopo produces the most potatoes in the country, using wild spinach and springbok venison,” Mabaso said.

The wine served over the course of the three evenings was compiled by sommelier Xolani Mancotywa, who owns Thatu Restaurant in Johannesburg.

Xolani Mancotywa made sure the wine pairings would please the world leaders. Picture: Supplied

For Tuesday’s first course, Chef Mabaso served KwaZulu-Natal tiger prawns, prawn aioli, prawn jus, grilled squid. Onion and sweet corn bhaji. Lemon and lobster aioli, Uphutu crust, naartjie and lobster jus.

On Wednesday evening, during the banquet dinner at Gallagher Estate, he incorporated some of the flavours that derive from the fellow BRICS nations and had a dish to represent each of the five countries.

Wandile Mabaso chose a Karoo lamb for the main course on Wednesday evening. Picture: Screenshot/Banquet Menu

On Thursday, at the China Banquet, Chef Mabaso created a South African and Chinese fusion.

“My mission was to take these humble ingredients as we know them and transform them into world class dishes that have a global appeal. I embedded mostly ingredients, cultures, storytelling, bright colours that are visually appealing and making sure there’s always a sense of nostalgia.

“My travels abroad have introduced me to Cuban, Jamaican, Mexican, Italian, French and Japanese cuisines. I frequently travelled to many of these places. I’m also from Soweto, so over the years my cuisine has been evolving to use most of these techniques using our local ingredients and flavours to merge and elevate them.

“I am grateful to have served important people, and yes, naturally it feels great. I’ve always dreamt of achieving this at a very young age, but it took me some time to really believe I would get to this level.

“For me, everyone that sits in front of my plate is important, regardless of national stature. There’s a message in the food that we are serving. It's vital to present this to the important people of this world. They can help convey this message on a global scale and through the right platforms,” Mabaso said.

Chef Mabaso said he has been working on new concepts for the future, while his ultimate goal will be to put South Africa on the culinary map, by bringing together a number of key ingredients.

“A few restaurants from the Western Cape have managed to do that. What we are trying to do is showcase South African culture and diversity on a level that the world has never seen. I believe that this will change many mindsets, boost tourism, local economies and farming,” he said.